A cute face can mean high costs
Prospective pet owners should ask more than "How much is that doggie in the window?" before deciding whether they can afford to welcome an animal into their home.
"Often the cute face and wagging tail and warm body is what forms the initial bond," says Katherine Miller, director of applied science and research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But "pets are completely depending on us for their care. You do need to make considerations for the financial side."
Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. households own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association, so many families should budget for their needs.
Save money for emergency vet trips, says Adam Goldfarb, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States.
"Healthy animals are fairly cheap," he says. "When they become ill or injured, the costs can go up quite a bit."
And don't forget to multiply recurring expenses by the pet's expected life span, which varies even among different dog or cat breeds and also based on their lifestyles, says Miller, who analyzed initial and annual costs of different pets in 2008.
Cats can live 15 to 20 years, and dogs 10 to 15 years, she says.
In the doghouse
Kibble doesn't come cheap. Dog lovers spent an average of $254 on dog food and $70 on treats within 12 months, according to respondents of the American Pet Products Association's 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey.
Keeping Fido healthy is another investment. Routine vet visits cost dog owners $248 on average, but let's not forget the costs to keep your pooch healthy and flea-free for the rest of the year. These preventive medicines ran owners another $161.
While you are keeping his insides healthy, of course you need to make sure the outsides look cuddly as well. That'll cost you, as grooming ran $73 on average.
All those dollar signs, and that's not taking into consideration each time you walked into the pet store and picked up a treat or toy because your dog was such a "good boy." These bits and pieces add up to another $43 each year.
As with getting a new pet, one-time costs may vary. Some jurisdictions may also require licensing fees. Deworming and microchip identification will also drive up early costs, Miller says. She found these costs can range from $470 to $565 for dogs.
Average yearly cost for a dog: $580 to $875.
People may say cats are self-sufficient, but that doesn't mean you don't need to care for them.
While cat food costs less than dog food, it's still $220 on average and $41 for treats, according to the survey. You'll also need to take into account other feline needs, which can include a scratching post and litter box. Cat litter can range widely in costs, with basic options ringing up for far less than advanced varieties or those that claim earth-friendliness.
Routine vet visits were also slightly cheaper than dogs, at an average of $219. And cat owners only spent about $110 on preventive medicine, including nutritional supplements and flea prevention.
Another area where cats cost less than dogs is in the grooming department. Primping your purring friend costs only $34 on average -- perhaps because cats do such a good job on their own?
Let's not forget the cost of those laser pens and catnip-filled mice. Toys cost less for cats as well: Pet owners say they only spent about an average of $21 over 12 months.
That's in addition to the approximately $325 cat owners would spend on one-time costs, such as spaying or neutering, and $67 on other supplies.
Average yearly cost for a cat: $670.
For the birds
Birds might seem like a bargain in comparison to dogs and cats, but they can still wind up costing you a lot of "seed." Miller found that caring for a small bird could cost $200 annually, which is nothing to tweet at.
The lower costs may stem from significantly lower food costs. Apparently birds really do eat like birds.
Bird owners told surveyors they spent less than cat or dog lovers to feed their feathered friends, estimating only $99 on average over 12 months. About $32 went to treats. These "cheep" savings flew up, though, when talking about medications and supplements for birds. Owners spend almost $100 in a year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
When Polly wants a checkup, they tend to be less expensive on average -- only about $117 for a routine visit.
Grooming aids for birds only cost about $37, although owners spent an additional $50 on nonmedicated shampoos or sprays each year. Other extras, including cages and toys, average $215.
Goldfarb says the Humane Society discourages people from keeping larger exotic birds such as macaws or African gray parrots.
Unlike smaller domesticated birds, such as cockatiels and parakeets, the larger birds can live 80 years or longer and have complex needs for socialization and care, he says.
Average yearly cost for a bird? Up to $200.
Fishing for savings
Fans of freshwater fish spent the least to care for their finned companions. Food cost about $26 on average for 12 months, although pet owners reported that live plant treats for those fish could cost them about the same amount.
Fish owners surveyed by the American Pet Products Association said they paid an average of $63 within the last 12 months and $25 for bowls or tanks.
Water test kits also ran them an average of $15, in addition to an average of $32 for other supplies, but they also never took their fish to the vet, avoiding those costs.
But before you dive into the wonderful world of fish ownership, think about where you want your pets to live.
Depending on the setup, an aquarium could cost up to $200 or more initially, and the temptation to purchase decorative bling can be difficult to resist. After all, what's a fish tank without the bubbling treasure chest and castle?
Average yearly cost for fish: $35.
Ways to save
Miller suggests pet owners could keep expenses in check by searching Craigslist or eBay for used, durable equipment such as crates and beds.
But all the experts agree families should not skimp on wellness visits and vaccinations.
"The more you can head off and prevent health problems, the less problems they'll have down the road," Miller says. "Catching a potential illness early in the progression is always going to be cheaper and more effective to treat than if it's caught in the later stages."
Jeff Blyskal, senior editor of Consumer Reports magazine, says pet owners should think twice before buying health insurance for their pets. "They scare you with the worst-case scenario, and the worst-case scenario is very unlikely," he says.
He says it's better to "self-insure" by socking away money on your own for any medical costs and unexpected emergencies.
And no matter how much pet food companies market fancy ingredients and additives, Blyskal also recommends no-frills pet foods, which still have to meet industry standards. "Those extra things have not been proven to have any benefit," he says.
Also, avoid overfeeding pets or slipping them table scraps. "They'll get diseases like humans," such as diabetes and heart disease, he says.